Kollam, Kerala: Over 90 people were killed and 350 injured when a major fire broke out in the Puttingal Devi Temple complex at nearby Paravoor early today when sparks emanating from a fireworks display ignited a store room filled with crackers and pyrotechnic material.
Thousands of people had gathered at the temple precincts to witness the fireworks display which were on since midnight when the fire broke out.
The mishap occurred as sparks fell on the storeroom 'Kambapura' and exploded with a deafening noise at around 3.30 AM, police said.
"The sound of the explosion could be heard over a kilometre's radius and the whole area plunged into darkness as the power supply went off and people ran helter skelter", eyewitnesses said.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said he has been informed by the state health minister that the death toll has gone beyond 90.
Chandy said he has asked the Prime Minister to provide two helicopters to Kollam to transport the seriously injured.
"The condition of some of the injured is stated to very serious and the injured have been admitted to various hospitals in and around Kollam and in Thiruvananthapuram," he said.
The Chief Minister said that the district collector of Kollam had not given permission to conduct the fireworks.
Police sources said a case has been registered against temple authorities and explosive licencees under section 307 (Attempt to murder), and 308 (Attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under section 4 of Explosives Substances Act.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Rs.2 lakh each as compensation for the next of the kin of the dead in the mishap and Rs.50,000 each for the injured in the tragedy.
The Prime Minister, who is rushing to Kerala to take stock of the situation, termed the incident as "heart-rending" and "shocking".
"Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending & shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased & prayers with the injured," he said in a tweet.
The Prime Minister has also asked Health Minister J P Nadda to reach the site of the mishap.
Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, who visited the spot, said 40 bodies have been identified.
A special cabinet meeting will be held at Kollam at 3 PM today to take stock of the situation, he said, adding the priority is to provide help to the injured at the earliest.